Man, what a run it was. Newton played the underdog three times in the state playoffs, first upsetting Tift County – originally a favorite to at least make the elite eight – then beating Dacula in the sweet sixteen. However, Newton couldn’t best Wheeler in the elite eight and fell to the Wildcats 72-54.
The way the game started, you’d think the Rams were the No. 1 seed and that Malik Wilson was the No. 1 player in Georgia (and second ranked player in the country) instead of Wheeler – the actual No. 1 seed – and Wildcat forward Jaylen Brown, who’s ranked No. 1 in Georgia and second in the country.
Newton took an early 12-9 lead with Wilson’s exuberant confidence as the catalyst. Wilson scored seven of Newton’s first 12 points, not to mention his exceptional on-ball defense against Brown.
Wheeler’s full-court press was just easy money for Newton, as the Rams passed out of double teams and found the open man cutting to the basket early and often in the first quarter. Newton took a 22-20 lead into the second quarter.
The Rams continued the second quarter with excellent ball and player movement, as they took a 31-27 lead midway through the period. The Wildcats started to play great on-ball defense of their own and forced a few Newton turnovers and got to the foul line (which they were able to do all night) to take a 38-36 lead. It would be the final lead change of the night.
Wheeler led 40-36 at halftime and came out of the locker room with a poised attack. Two back-to-back threes broke open the game and pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 50-41 with just 4:10 left in the third.
Newton was able to get within seven, but that was as close as the Rams got for the remainder of the game. A Wheeler three at the buzzer, ending the third quarter, lifted the team’s lead to 58-47.
Newton was unable to muster any offense in the fourth, scoring just seven points and falling to a great Wheeler team.
J.D. Notae led Newton with 15 points, Donovan Grubb added 12 points and Wilson added 11.
For more on the Rams check out the Sunday edition of the Covington News.